MonthMay 2020

Advice for Young Teachers

I am currently reading I, Claudius (1934) by Robert Graves.  I watched the miniseries on PBS in 1976–I was fascinated by the story then, and I am loving it again.

This time though, I am a teacher.  And this passage from early in the book encapsulated my evolution as a teacher.  If I have any advice for young teachers it is here:

Athenodorus told me, the very first day of his tutorship, that he proposed to teach me not facts which I could pick up anywhere for myself, but the proper presentation of facts. And this he did.

One day, for example, he asked me, kindly enough, why I was so excited: I seemed unable to concentrate on my task. I told him that I had just seen a huge draft of recruits parading on Mars Field under Augustus’s inspection before being sent off to Germany, where war had recently broken out again.

“Well,” said Athenodorus, still in the same kindly voice, “since this is so much on your mind that you can’t appreciate the beauties of Hesiod, Hesiod can wait until to-morrow. After all, he’s waited seven hundred years or more, so he won’t grudge us another day. And meanwhile, suppose you were to sit down and take your tablets and write me a letter, a short account of all that you saw on Mars Field; as if I had been five years absent from Rome and you were sending me a letter across the sea, say to my home in Tarsus. That would keep your restless hands employed and be good practice too.”

So I gladly scribbled away on the wax, and then we read the letter through for faults of spelling and composition. I was forced to admit that I had told both too little and too much, and had also put my facts in the wrong order.

The passage describing the lamentations of the mothers and sweethearts of the young soldiers, and how the crowd rushed to the bridgehead for a final cheer of the departing column, should have come last, not first. And I need not have mentioned that the cavalry had horses: people took that for granted. And I had twice put in the incident of Augustus’s charger stumbling: once was enough if the horse only stumbled once. And what Postumus had told me, as we were going home, about the religious practices of the Jews, was interesting, but did not belong here because the recruits were Italians, not Jews. Besides, at Tarsus he would probably have more opportunities of studying Jewish customs than Postumus had at Rome.

On the other hand I had not mentioned several things that he would have been interested to hear — how many recruits there were in the parade, how far advanced their military training was, to what garrison town they were being sent, whether they looked glad or sorry to go, what Augustus said to them in his speech.

There it is.

That’s how you teach if you want students to learn anything beyond the next test.

 

Green with Envy

Photo by Krzysztof Niewolny on Unsplash

Why is envy green?  

Envy eats vipers and the poison of her victuals accumulates and concentrates in her body till her skin erupts in green, festering blisters. 

I was reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses with coffee this morning.  Ovid was a Roman poet and this work is considered his magnum opus.  Anyway, in book 2 there is this incredible description of Envy.  Minerva is super mad at Aglauros, so she goes to Envy to ask her to curse Agrauros with a touch.   

[Minerva] Then sought out Envy in her dark abode,

Defil’d with ropy gore and clots of blood:

Shut from the winds, and from the wholesome skies,

In a deep vale the gloomy dungeon lies,

Dismal and cold, where not a beam of light

Invades the winter, or disturbs the night.

 

Directly to the cave her course she steer’d;

Against the gates her martial lance she rear’d;

The gates flew open, and the fiend appear’d.

 

A pois’nous morsel in her teeth she chew’d,

And gorg’d the flesh of vipers for her food.

Minerva loathing turn’d away her eye;

The hideous monster, rising heavily,

Came stalking forward with a sullen pace,

And left her mangled offals on the place.

 

Soon as she saw the goddess gay and bright,

She fetch’d a groan at such a chearful sight.

 

Livid and meagre were her looks, her eye

In foul distorted glances turn’d awry;

A hoard of gall her inward parts possess’d,

And spread a greenness o’er her canker’d breast;

Her teeth were brown with rust, and from her tongue,

In dangling drops, the stringy poison hung.

 

She never smiles but when the wretched weep,

Nor lulls her malice with a moment’s sleep,

Restless in spite: while watchful to destroy,

She pines and sickens at another’s joy;

Foe to her self, distressing and distrest,

She bears her own tormentor in her breast.

                                                                    –2.760-782

The Greeks and the Romans had a penchant for personifying emotions and ideas.  Personification is a figure of speech were objects and ideas are given human qualities or are represented in human form.  Ovid takes the human emotion, envy, and makes it into a person–Envy.

What attracted me to this representation of Envy is that it struck me as true.  I’ve seen this creature before, not only in others but in myself as well.  It will do us well to look take a careful look at her in order to know the effects of her touch.  

The Deep Cover of Envy

Envy’s dwelling is hidden in a “deep vale.”  

The vice, envy, is also hidden.  Envy is different than the other deadly sins.  It is fairly easy to see Wrath and Gluttony, and we aren’t all that embarrassed by them.  Some, like Greed and Pride, are even celebrated in our culture–even Lust is celebrated today.  But not Envy.  We don’t want any one to see our envy.  To show envy we’d be admitting that we feel inferior.  Envy is so petty.  We know it’s petty, and we are embarrassed by it. 

Envy personified in hidden away in a dark and “gloomy dungeon” where the air is stagnant; it is “dismal and cold.” 

The Envy is Poison

Envy gorges on “the flesh of vipers.”  Her appetites are both glutenous and foul.  Her heavy rising suggests she is not wasting away, but this is poisoned food.  The toxins from the vipers feeds her malice which bubbles in “greenness o’er her canker’d breast.”    

As with the diet of Envy personified, the emotion of envy is nourishing as well–we take a small comfort in the misery of others.  But this comfort is toxic.  The one who envies is in the hideous state of being eaten while eating.

Shakespeare and Ovid are on the same page here:

“O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;

It is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock
The meat it feeds on.”

                                                             Othello–Shakespeare

Envy is Different

All the other seven-deadly-sins involve some element of pleasure for the sinner.  Not so with envy.  Not only do you not enjoy the sin, but the very nature of envy also makes you unable to enjoy the good things you do have.  You can’t enjoy your beauty, wealth, strength, intelligence because someone else is more beautiful, richer, stronger, or smarter.  

Envy enjoys nothing–she doesn’t enjoy her food; she doesn’t enjoy the beauty of her visitor; she never even enjoys the pleasure of taking a little nap once in a while.

All the other seven-deadly-sins involve some element of pleasure for the sinner. Not so with envy. Not only do you not enjoy the sin, but the very nature of envy also makes you unable to enjoy the good things you do have.Click To Tweet

Minerva’s Commission

Envy is immortal, but what happens when she touches you?

Minerva commands Envy to destroy Aglauros, and she does so with a touch.  Here’s what happens:

To execute Minerva’s dire command,
She stroak’d the virgin with her canker’d hand,
Then prickly thorns into her breast convey’d,
That stung to madness the devoted maid:
Her subtle venom still improves the smart,
Frets in the blood, and festers in the heart.

To make the work more sure, a scene she drew,
And plac’d before the dreaming virgin’s view
Her sister’s marriage, and her glorious fate:
Th’ imaginary bride appears in state;
The bride-groom with unwonted beauty glows:

For envy magnifies what-e’er she shows.
Full of the dream, Aglauros pin’d away
In tears all night, in darkness all the day;
Consum’d like ice, that just begins to run,
When feebly smitten by the distant sun;
Or like unwholsome weeds, that set on fire
Are slowly wasted, and in smoke expire.

Argros is destroyed by envy of her sister’s marriage–something one would hope would make her happy.  Instead, because of envy, she pines away. Melts like ice on a sunny day.  Burns up like dry grass in a fire.

Dealing With Envy

Worship of God takes care of envy.  By this, I do not necessarily mean singing praise and worship songs in church.

Experience of God’s love and grace erases envy.   Where do you experience these things?  Songs?  Maybe you do.  I don’t.  

I get it from Word and Sacrament. 

But let me focus briefly on the sacrament of communion.  In The Lord’s Supper, Christ extends his hand to us and gives us the sacrifice of his body and blood.  His death erases my sin and brings me into the family of the Heavenly Father.  Nothing is required of me except to accept the offer of this incredible gift.  I get so much, for so little.   

In the light of the overwhelming Grace of God, how can I be harbour resentment for someone is smarter, or more beautiful, or more wealthy than I am?

The Importance of Routines (In the Time of Pandemic)

Wokandapix / Pixabay

I have had students tell me that they are not feeling all that motivated to do school.  Some of these students are “attending” their classes from their beds.

My carefully edited response to this is, “Don’t do that.”

Get up.  Shower even.  Get dressed.  Have a work place.  And get to work.

I have found routines to be very helpful in getting my work done–and not just school work.  Routines during the time of the pandemic are essential.

I think we are made for routines–throughout human history, our lives have been patterned by the seasons.   We picked berries in summer and killed salmon in the fall.  Then we planted in the spring and harvested in the early autumn and killed pigs in the winter.  We had festivals and ceremonies to commemorate these annual occurrences.  In the Old Testament, God established a pattern of worship that celebrated his providence and holiness and the Christian Church established a calendar that would teach the people the story of God’s faithfulness.

Things are different today, at least before the pandemic; we can get berries, salmon and pork year-round.  Air conditioners and furnaces keep us at a steady 21 degrees Celsius through all seasons.   And the pattern of our worship calendar is down to, basically, two annual events–Christmas and Easter.

We were made for daily patterns too.  Wake up, shower, eat a quick breakfast, go to school, class-break-class-lunch-class-break-class-home, watch something, eat dinner, homework, friends, bed.  Or something like that.

Then came the coronavirus.  Covid-19 with its social distancing and quarantines has messed up our annual patterns–we didn’t go anyplace for Spring Break.  It messes up Airband and Sportsday, and Grad.  This is very disappointing, but the effect of the disruption of our daily patterns can be even more significant.

We sleep and when we wake up we spend our time on a screen, either for school or for fun.  Without a more robust routine, the day can devolve into a featureless morass of sedentary listlessness.

Wake up when you wake up–lay around in bed until you feel like getting up–grab a granola bar as you walk past the kitchen to the couch–watch three screens at the same time till you don’t feel like it anymore–then do it some more because there is nothing else to do–heat and eat a frozen thing–return to screens and maybe fall asleep–take 5 minutes do something your mother asked you to do–back to the screens…

This can mess you up bad.

Creating a daily routine can have important mental health benefits, and by creating one, you can make room for the important things in life.  I found that having to create a new routine has helped me refocus.

Here are my suggestions for routines:

  1. Set an alarm, or at least get up when you wake up.
  2. Sit still, without a screen, while you drink the hot beverage of your choice.
  3. Be deliberate about all your meals.  Fry an egg or make a sandwich.
  4. Do devotions.
  5. Set aside time to produce something–don’t just consume.
  6. Set aside time where you do something your mom or dad wants you to do–and give it the time it needs to do it well.  Inform your parents of this plan so they don’t randomly ask you to do little things all day.  But be open to helping whenever needed of course.
  7. Do something physical every day–I go hiking up “My Mountain.”
  8. Don’t fill up your free time with screens–read a book!!

Some students have a difficult time with school under the current circumstances.  Motivation is only one of the struggles they are experiencing, but it’s a big one.  This is something akin to what many experience when they move out of the house or start their first year of university.  The motivation doesn’t come from employers or professors.  It’s got to come from within.

For grade 12s, this is a lesson that was going to have to be learned in September.  You’ve just got a jump on it compared to other years.

How to Wake Up Well

Here is the message I delivered to our school’s chapel today:

Click on this link: How to Wake Up Well

 

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